The past eight weeks, I've been in Montana with my mom, who is dying of Alzheimer's, and my dad, who is showing his true colors as a devoted and extraordinary caregiver. There's a garden level apartment below the main floor of their home, so I have plenty of living/office space, and he doesn't have to have me all up in his grill. He's created a place of peace and music. The sheer power of his love for her is humbling and wonderful.
I cook breakfast and dinner every day and sit with Mom for about 90 minutes, playing ukelele and singing, reading from the Poetry Foundation iPhone app, holding her hand. She's no longer able to communicate really, but she seems to engage with the music and every once in a while, she breaks out in a huge smile. Most of the time, Mom is vacant or cries, as is typical with end stage Alzheimer's, but sometimes she laughs.
Of course, I'd like to think that these are the moments she is most lucid, because laughter has always been the coping mechanism of choice in our family. Years ago, when I was going through chemo for blood cancer, Mom came down to Houston to help Gary care for me, and we laughed a lot. We'd laugh until we cried, and those were the most cathartic, open-hearted, soul-cleansing tears. Tears of anger or sorrow you squeeze into your pillow are so much less satisfying. It's like that great line in the play Steel Magnolias: "Laughter through tears is my favorite emotion."
So without further ado and at the risk of revealing my sophomoric side, here are six things that never - no matter how bleak, broken or lost I feel - never fail to make me laugh:
1. This photo of my kids with a terribly unlucky Easter Bunny. Self-explanatory. I will add that my children are now full grown, well-adjusted people who both love Donny Darko.
2. Penguin falls over and makes squeaky toy noise.
Why is this so dang funny? I don't know. But I defy you to look at it only once. I can't stand it. I showed it to my daughter-in-law, who is a psychotherapist, and she thinks it's funny too, so I don't feel too bad.
3. Mitchell and Webb: "Write this." Oh, Mitchell and Webb. You got it so agonizingly right. My own private giggle: He suggests, "What if the main character dies at the end of Chapter One?" I couldn't help myself. I had to write that.
4. Radiskull and Devil Doll! Back in the day when Elf Bowling was hi tech and my darling middle school age son Malachi (now a grownup married man) was discovering this new thing called the Interwebs or Interest-net or something like that, I kept pretty close tabs on what he was consuming online. And it was this. I cannot explain why it slays me. Maybe there's a bit of middle school boy in all of us.
5. The Doors do "Reading Rainbow" theme song. Having heard this little ditty hundreds (if not thousands) of times while my kids were growing up, I got a huge hoot out of Jimmy Fallon's rendition a la Jim Morrison. I also love everything Fallon does as Neil Young, especially "Pants on the Ground."
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